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Banzai!

TIME MAGAZINE
Monday, Nov. 11, 1946

The frightening cry that once signaled the suicidal charges of Japan's doomed Pacific Island armies echoed through Tokyo this week. More than 100,000 cheering Japanese swarmed over the outer grounds of Emperor Hirohito's palace to shout "Banzai!" to his promulgation of Nippon's new, democratically worded constitution (effective May 7). The Emperor & Empress showed themselves for only five minutes, but that was long enough to get oldsters weeping. A college student expressed the new Japan, enthusiastically "democratic," yet still tied to the Emperor by fantastically exaggerated loyalty: "I consider it the greatest joy; I do not know whether I am happy most because of the constitution, or because I have seen the Emperor. I shall strive to the death for his and my country's welfare."

The Imperial appearance highlighted a day of strange contrasts. In the morning Hirohito, in an ancient Shinto ceremony at the palace shrine, reported the promulgation to the souls of his ancestors. Later he drove (in a handsome, black Mercedes-Benz with maroon trim) to the Diet to read his Imperial Rescript in high-pitched, colloquial Japanese. At the palace celebration, Hirohito emerged in an open horse-drawn carriage.

The Emperor had chosen "Meiji setsu" —birthday of the Emperor Meiji, who made Japan a modern power and Shinto a war-inspiring state religion—to proclaim democracy. Tokyo's famous Meiji shrine staged a three-day festival that included a tea ceremony and geisha dances, but at the same time the government began distribution of new "democratic" photographs of the Emperor, in civilian instead of military dress. Nagasaki residents held a snake dance and a poetry contest on the subject: "Reconstruction from the Atomic Bomb."

The new constitution gave Japan a pattern for democracy. The Japanese are now faced with the responsibility of making practice fit the pattern. Aged statesman Yukio Ozaki warned that the Japanese moral code—"based on murder and falsehood"—must be radically altered, predicted that three generations would be needed to educate Japanese to the meaning of the new constitution. Said Tokyo's Asahi Shimbun, as it prepared to publicize and interpret the constitution's text and meaning: "Only when we have created a state or society in which we can get along perfectly well without knowing a single article of the constitution can the new constitution really be said to have been completed."

How little Americans in the U.S. now cared about the progress of their defeated enemy toward this goal was demonstrated by a Constitution Day incident: NBC Correspondent George Thomas Folster had arranged a tradition-shattering exclusive "live" broadcast of the Emperor's message, urged it on his New York office. Cabled back NBC: "Can't use Hirohito."